The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 20, 2021
A rancher in Texas’ tornado alley needed help and engaged a hired hand. Though the man proved to have top-notch skills, he’d said something that troubled the rancher. He said, “I know how to sleep through a storm.” Was he making a joke, or indicating the limits of his commitment to the job? Despite wondering about that, the rancher took him on and provided him a room off the barn.
One night, a fierce storm arose, and the rancher leapt out of bed to protect his property against its violence. Running first to the barn, he was dismayed to see the hired hand’s room pitch-black. He pounded on door, and yelled, “Get up! All hell’s about to break loose! You’re needed!” A voice yelled back, “No, I’m not. I told you I know how to sleep through a storm.”
The rancher cursed and scrambled off to take care of the livestock, only to find every animal safe in the barn. He dashed off to secure his equipment, only to find every piece locked up. He looked back at his house, only to find shutters closed on all windows but his bedroom’s.
That hired hand knew how to sleep through a storm because he knew he had everything under control. Jesus knew how to sleep through a storm because He knew His Father in heaven had everything under control.
Today’s Bible story took place after Jesus and His disciples had exhausted themselves in a long, hard day of ministry to big crowds along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had, as He taught, used a small fishing boat as a floating pulpit, to order to give everyone in the crowd a clear line of sight on Him and to take advantage of the good acoustics still water provides. When darkness fell, Jesus told His disciples to set sail for the eastern shore of the sea. Jesus, however, was too tired even to get out of the boat before they set out. He collapsed on a cushion and fell dead asleep.
As often happens on the Sea of Galilee, a violent squall pounced without warning, and threatened to capsize their boat.
As Jesus, in the stupor of a deep sleep, remained oblivious to the danger of that “all-hands-on-deck” moment, the disciples grew exasperated and mistook His inaction for indifference to their welfare. So over the shrieking wind they screamed at Him what we may scream at Him when things go wrong, “Do you not care?”
Jesus awoke, not to defend Himself against their charge or to lend a hand in bailing out the water, but to speak to the wind and the waves and order them to settle down. Immediately, to the disciples’ awed amazement, the wind calmed down and the waves lay down. Having rebuked those two forces of nature, Jesus then rebuked the twelve disciples, saying, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus felt that, knowing Him, they should have known better than to panic. After all, had it not been He who, by telling them to cross the Sea, put them in the middle of the storm? And did they not remember than He consulted with the Father constantly and enacted His plan for them exactly? Did they not trust that, while following Him does not always involve smooth sailing, it always takes them on the best course and to the best destination?
It would behoove us to ponder whether Jesus would rebuke us and ask us such questions. Don’t we know Him well enough to know that, while He may not keep us protected from storms, He’ll always keep us protected in them, even those that hurt or injure us? Hasn’t He just proven Himself faithful and wise throughout a long pandemic? Can’t we by now trust that, while He may lead us through struggles, suffering and sacrifices, He’s still leading us somewhere great? Don’t we have enough faith to rest serenely in confidence of His caring and to more often sleep peacefully in midst of life’s storms?
The extent to which a storm disturbs us depends on what it means to us, and what it means to us depends on whether we look at it in the light of the Lord’s love or by the darkness with which storms becloud us. Our faith determines whether a storm drives a wedge between God and us or drives us close to Him for shelter and strength.
We’d all do well to seek to imitate the example of Jesus who could sleep through fierce storms. Yes, we will from time to time get drenched by cold waves, be pressed into hard work when already exhausted, and risk drowning in the world’s ocean of tears. But Jesus is there and He does care; and that tells us that, whatever happens, even if it be our dying, we have nothing to fear.
So let us be courageous in bearing our witness, fighting the good fight for justice for all, and sacrificing what we must for love’s sake; and let us brave whatever comes our way with a trusting tranquility that may cause us to nod off in faith even when everyone else is losing their mind. After all, God is Master over all storms and loves us with all His might!